By Karen Anderson, Katherine Donaghy and Megan Marshall
The name of my blog is Savour Food Savour Life. I believe one of the best ways to savour both food and life is via travel. Travel affords the time to slow down and actually savour your surroundings, your food and consequently, your life. Incidentally, travel has also been shown to stimulate the brain and cause increased neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve. These two things are crucially important in optimal brain function as we age. In my previous life as a nurse I saw countless people never get a chance to experience travel due to unforseen tragedy or circumstances. Early in my life I adopted the motto: “go while the going is good”. I tend to approach life this way and its amazing how many like-minded people I meet. My friends Kath and Megan are two great examples.
Kath and Megan both take their food and travel seriously. Mostly, they have serious fun while exploring both. When I heard they were both travelling to The Big Apple this last spring and summer I thought it would be fun to hook them up so they could compare notes and tips with each other. Turns out they had such good notes and tips, I thought you might enjoy them too. They both agreed it would be fun to let their findings flow to a wider audience, so I’ll be acting as the conduit.
Kath went first. She’s a Brit ex-pat, now living in Calgary. She was heading to NYC for a reunion with a group of old friends from the UK. The gang’s express purpose was visiting and eating their way through NYC. When you read her notes which follow, you’ll see why I have since “cherry-picked” her to work for me at www.calgaryfoodtours.com She’s got an excellent palate and pays great attention to details. Just what we love at Calgary Food Tours.
Kath’s NYC notes
The Big Apple. Even the name hints at New York City’s massive potential for culinary delights. But, since there are over 20,000 restaurants to choose from, knowing where to eat can be a little overwhelming. Because tourists have relatively little time to explore it can be a real let down when one of your hopeful hits turns out to be a miss. In the past we’ve tried the well-known delis and eating institutions such as Carnegie’s Deli www.carnegiedeli.com and Katz’s Delicatessen http://katzsdelicatessen.com and though touristy they are enjoyable. In fact now, no trip to NYC would now be complete without popping in to sample the sizable smoked meat sandwiches or famous New York Cheesecake, but on this trip my friends and I wanted to dig deeper into the food scene to answer the question, where do the locals eat? Locals haunt local haunts for a reason. They’ve already ruled out the touristy and over-rated spots, they’re more in touch with the pulse of the restaurant scene and in tune with what warrants the current buzz. We made a pact to chat up concierges, people on the street, wait staff and to sniff out some of the lesser known gems on offer to the city’s residents. What follows are our top findings.
Real American fare
1) Bubby’s – There are two locations in the city, but I went to the Tribeca one (120 Hudson St). The food is classic American with an emphasis on using local and farm fresh ingredients where possible. This means slow-cooked meats, classic burgers and delicious pies. Bubby’s also prides itself in traditional style brunches – with everything from grits to pancake. I wolfed down their banoffee pie with its decadent layers of gooey caramel and banana piled high between soft pillows of cream. My idea of YUM. Check them out at www.bubbys.com
2) The Smith – A gastro pub (restaurant quality gastronomy without taking away from the pub atmosphere) that specialises in sustainable, organic American food from local sources. There are three locations, and I visited the East Village one (55 3 Ave). Bread is served at the tables in retro style paper bags and the atmosphere is buzzing. You’ll find more info at www.thesmithnyc.com
3) Burger Joint at Parker Meridian (119 West 56 Street) This may seem an odd inclusion: a burger joint found in the Parker Meridian? To locate it, go in to the Meridian Hotel past the grand marble entrance, and tucked off to the side you will see a small neon burger sign. Behind a curtain you’ll find the tiniest of joints where they serve burgers and fries and burgers and fries only! We thought they were outstanding in quality and freshness and they were a steal of a deal (burgers start at $6.89). The whole experience was refreshing and we categorized this as a rare and rather random Manhattan gem: www.parkermeridien.com/eat4.php
A meal is never over without a little something sweet to complete. Here are a couple of special places that we found.
1) Van Leeuwen Ice Cream – This artisan company uses milk from a local dairy to produce what I can only describe as a “posh” ice cream because of how rich and satisfying it was. I tried some from their food truck but they have a store as well. www.vanleeuwenicecream.com
Note: if you are interested in NYC’s food truck culture visit the New York Food Truck Association’s website: www.nycfoodtrucks.org There are currently 39 gourmet trucks circulating the city.
2) Mast Brother Chocolates (111 N 3rd St, Brooklyn) Two brothers run this fair trade and organic chocolate store. All bars are hand-wrapped and unique – they abhor mass distribution and uniformity and achieve delicious and outstanding quality. I purchased two bars and delighted in their velvety mouth feel. I had hoped they would last a few days but they didn’t make it out of Brooklyn that afternoon. http://www.mastbrothers.com
Hint: while at Mast Brothers…you aren’t too far from Brooklyn Brewery which does regular free tours: http://brooklynbrewery.com
3) Café Angelique – There are four locations in the city, and I visited the Grove Street one. It’s a European style bakery and coffee shop with the most amazing muffins and scones as well as an extensive coffee menu. We loved sitting on the benches outside, sipping our cappucinos and watching the Manhattan’s little corner of the world go by. http://cafeangeliquenyc.com
With its noticeable Italian influence, we thought a trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of what’s been called the world’s finest pizza and pasta. We wanted to know if that was a proud NYC boast or something we could verify.
1) Verso (127 Avenue C) This tiny little restaurant opened in 2011 and specialises in the true Italian dining experience. Everything is homemade and they try where possible to use local and organic produce. We thought the mascarpone cheesecake was the most delicious dessert ever. So litmus test one was positive. http://www.versonyc.com
2) Grimaldi’s – This pizza pie shop is worth going to for the atmosphere alone. It’s very fun. The pizza oven is front and center, you can see the dough being made and the chefs popping them in and out of the oven in front of you. We can verify that they are the most delish pizzas and they are HUGE! Expect a long line up, chat up your queue partners for more tips and know it’s worth the wait. www.grimaldis.com
Now onto Megan’s recommendations. Megan is the daughter of my dear friends Tony and Penny Marshall of www.highwoodcrossing.com She and her sister Kerry signed on early this year to come on a cuisine and culture trip to Kerala, India in a few weeks so I already knew she was an adventurous eater. Her parents are wonderful cooks and she grew up eating an amazing diet of local produce and grains long before it was de rigueur.
Megan’s Comments and Picks for NYC
Stanton Social – http://thestantonsocial.com This was a recommendation from a friend and we loved it. We had “Brooklyn Lemonade” cocktails at the bar upstairs and then headed downstairs for dinner. The menu is all little sharing plates and we loved that this allowed us to try a bunch of different things. We went for the sliders, chicken waffles and red snapper fish tacos. It has a very cool vibe and was buzzing with the lively conversations of families and friends at surrounding tables.
Grimaldi’s – http://www.grimaldis.com Katherine was right, this pizza shop is worth going to for the atmosphere alone. They have tasty, HUGE pizzas. We went right when it opened for lunch and were the first in line (Great tip Megan). By the time we left there was a line up around the block along with a red rope and pizza ‘bouncer’ keeping guard/taking names. We planned it so we’d eat and then walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge and we were definitely well fuelled for the journey.
Buddakan – http://www.buddakannyc.com This place had great food and a hip “see and be seen” atmosphere which made it feel like more a club than a restaurant. Their menu is contemporary and had a lot of interesting fusions. We tried the lots of dumplings – edamame, pork, carrot, and shrimp and while they are all classics each delivered a surprising twist of successful fusion.
Murray’s Bagels – http://murraysbagels.com/mobile/home.htmI I did lots of research on the best bagel joints. I love a great bagel. It seemed like H&H, Murrays and Absolute bagels were the top ones. We happened to be closer to Murray’s and it didn’t disappoint. A word to the wise: Don’t be that girl in the line who can’t decide what she wants. The staff don’t tolerate indecisiveness well in their constantly jam-packed joint. It’s quite the authentic New York experience.
Bourgeois Pig – http://www.bourgeoispigny.com This is a good place for chocolate fondue after dinner….or wine and cheese fondue for your actual dinner! We had the roasted wild mushroom fondue – and plenty of their white, rose and red sangria. Yum.
High tea at the Plaza – http://www.fairmont.com/theplaza/GuestServices/Restaurants/AfternoonTea.htm This was a memorable experience right on Central Park. Tea, little sandwiches, scones and lots of treats.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream – http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com/new Another of Katherine’s great suggestions which we enjoyed for a snack. We had pistachio from a food truck in SoHo.
Devi – http://www.devinyc.com/home.html This was a great suggestion from Karen (I chipped this suggestion in because Megan was looking for Indian food but can’t take full credit. I had just had a conversation with my friend Raju Banerjee of www.industravels.com and she told me this is her favourite Indian restaurant in NYC. Her son lives in Manhattan and every time she visits they eat there – quite a commendation indeed) Best chicken tikki malasa I’ve ever had. Manchurian Cauliflower and samosas were also delish.
Babbo – http://www.babbonyc.com My boyfriend really wanted to try out this Mario Bartoli restaurant. We were lucky to get in as you usually have to book exactly 30 days out for a reservation. It was quite expensive but worth it. We did a 5 course pasta tasting menu with wine pairings. (Karen here again – my friends Kelci Hind and Colin Leach of www.silkroadspices.com just returned from a week in NYC and echoed Megan’s sentiment exactly. They acknowledged it was pricey but they got stars in their eyes when they talked about the food and said is was worth every penny)
Sarahbeth’s – http://www.sarabeth.com/ • This was an “Oprah recommendation”. We went to the location off central park for brunch. They’re known for their preserves and scones which were unfortunately all sold out when we arrived. They did have great overall brunch fare though (me again – Megan is being too nice here. I’d be bitter as I love scones and if a place is known for their scones and ran out of them by the time I got there (still brunch time) I’d be sad and disappointed. What gives Sarahbeth? Make enough scones already).
Babycakes – http://www.babycakesnyc.com I’m not a vegan or celiac but friend’s with allergies highly recommended this place and their cookbook. They were very good cupcakes for alternative flour baking.
Karen’s Two Cents
I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived in Boston for three years and only made it to NYC once. I went to visit my high school best friend whose been living in Brooklyn since college graduation. We mostly hung out and visited with her family as her children were quite young then but one night we went for dinner at a most mysterious place indeed. She said, we’re going to Peta Luca. There’s no menu, you’ll love it. All I remember is us all piling into her mother’s old “woody station wagon” and driving to what I thought was a rough neighbourhood on a cold dark winter night. Her Mom paid someone to watch the car. I was impressed. We went upstairs, were tucked in at long communal tables and Eileen ordered, “Tomato and onion salad, cream spinach, potato scallop, steaks and red wine”. The tomatoes and onions tasted like they’d been kissed by Sicilian sun the day before. the creamed spinach and potatoes were bland, cream laden and obviously designed to let the real star of the show shine. Enter the mammoth porterhouse steaks from the early Flinstonian era. I’ve never forgotten them.
Flash forward 10 years. My husband has a “flashy” 4 day meeting in Manhattan. He’s had this board meeting for a few years now and says the work is winding down and this will be the last time the group meets so, why don’t I come along and have a reunion with Eileen? I phone Eileen with the news and the first words out of her mouth are “Eddie, get on the phone to Peta Luca, we’ve gotta take Karen and her husband!” They got a reservation for 9pm calling three months in advance. That’s fine I say, Todd and I don’t mind. Eileen says, no, Eddie does not eat at 9pm. Meet us there at 7pm. We’ll get in.
Meanwhile, we arrive and have a little time between Todd’s meetings to explore the city. I’d recommend walking everywhere. Manhattan is clean and friendly and caring in a post 9-11 world. We went to The Met and then strolled across Central Park to The Museum of Natural History to pick up a gift for our son.
We took the subway down to the Theatre district to grab a quick bite and after our show we walked the whole way back to The Carlisle where we were staying.
Of course there’s no end to the shopping that can be done and I met Eileen and her sister Theresa for lunch and some serious retail therapy at Macy’s and Saks and then I forced my two non-cookery friends to take me to www.deananddeluca.com Eileen had to call Eddie and say, Karen wants to go to a grocery store, can you believe it? She had to ask him where it was, despite the fact that people all over the world make pilgrimages to what was one of the first great importers of fine cheeses and food goods.
The few days zipped by and the night arrived when we were to meet our friends at Peta Luca. I’ve met Eddie a few times. He’s born and raised in Brooklyn, fighting Irish descent, and a veteran firefighter who survived building two falling on him in 9-11. I know he’s an absolute marshmallow with his kids and Eileen but that he also likes to talk trash when he plays basketball and put on the tough act to get him through his incredibly demanding job. Eddie and Todd have never met. Eddie has told me more than once that he can size up someone’s character in 3 minutes and he’s going to give me a quiet thumbs up or down to let me know what he thinks of my husband. I know he’s just pulling my leg but nevertheless, my tip to Todd is order what Eddie orders and what every happens, go with it!
We arrive and find a crowded bar with stand up room only. Eddie says, “A beer Todd?” – Todd says yes and passes test one. Eddie winks at me as Todd takes a deep pull of the ice cold draft. The beer ordered Eddie slips away and we see him peeling bills off a roll while talking with the dining room host. Guess what? We were seated in 5 minutes. I don’t know what that little transaction cost Eddie as you would never ask such a proud man but like Eileen says, Eddie doesn’t eat at 9PM. Again, Eileen orders “the usual”. Todd asks if he can at least buy the wine and asks the waiter for the wine list. The waiter says, you want the list, I’ll give you the list: red or white, that’s the list. Todd says, Eddie, red? Eddie smiles and gives the thumbs up and we enjoyed the same menu choices we’d had 10 years previously. This time it was spring, with light pouring in the windows and I found the restaurant was actually called Peter Luger Steakhouse (not Peta Luca as my darling friend’s accent had me thinking). Peter Luger has been in business for 125 years and though it has become ultra-hipster Manhattanite cool, my darling Brooklyners proved they could still “own it” when they wanted to. I’ve loved both my Peter Luger experiences and my best tip to you if you want to go and experience those porterhouse steaks is either book months in advance or take a bank roll of twenties if you don’t want to eat at 9PM. www.peterluger.com
So, there you have it. Two brief accounts from Kath and Megan of what they enjoyed in the spring and summer of 2012 in NYC and my rather long and rambling story of a little exploring, a little shopping and theatre and a ten-year time warp between two great visits to the famous Peter Luger Steakhouse.
I’m sure whatever cuisine you are looking for, you will find it in New York City. Let us know what you think of our suggestions and please feel free to add to our list with any of your own recommendations in the comments section.